TULSA, Okla. - At a "town hall" meeting here Jan. 30, City Councilman Jack Henderson informed residents of North Tulsa that many of the public community centers that had been paid for by the citizens of Tulsa would be demolished. According to Councilman Henderson, the buildings had been neglected by the city fathers and were structurally unstable. The message to the people in attendance was "safety," but behind the rhetoric, the real message was clear: profit for developers.
North Tulsa is a primarily African American area.
Many in the audience found the announcement disconcerting. Objections were raised to the city's failure to consult with the taxpaying voters in the affected community before making such important decisions - decisions that will ultimately deprive the young people of the area opportunities to participate in free and low-cost social activities.
Others objected to the "patronizing" manner in which the meeting was conducted. The agenda distributed at the "Town Hall Forum" listed a "[d]iscussion of plans for possible demolition of Ben Hill, BC Franklin, Sprindale recreation Centers." However, as the meeting progressed, it was clear that there was to be no "discussion."
In an effort to save the local community center, private citizens went so far as to make bids on the property. They have supplied the Tulsa City Council with information about their effort. However, according to Lucy Dolman, director of city parks for the city of Tulsa, there is already a "master plan" plan in place. Therefore, the property to be demolished is not for sale to the public, nor would any amount of private donations from community members be accepted to preserve the site. The details of the "master plan" have not been made available to the public.
In a city with a deplorable civil rights track record, home to a consistent Ku Klux Klan presence with ties to the mayor's family, the fact that the scheduled demolitions are targeting primarily black neighborhoods, while leaving public parks of South Tulsa's wealthier districts intact, has raised additional concerns. These decisions follow other cuts affecting Tulsa's predominantly minority areas, such as last year's closing of 19 Tulsa public schools and layoffs of hundreds of teachers and staff. This most recent move appears to many as yet another by those in municipal government doling out "sweetheart deals" to a select group of developers who happen to also to make healthy campaign donations to certain elected officials.
Following the conclusion of Monday's town hall meeting, many attendees spoke of taking action to stop the demolitions. According to key activists, groups throughout the city have already begun organizing community-driven alternatives to the city plans in an effort to preserve their facilities and hold their elected officials accountable to the public.
Photo: AintTulsaGrand // CC 2.0